Statutory rape laws have often been controversial and unequally applied to male and female victims and perpetrators. While very few believe that sexual activity with minors who have not yet reached puberty (child molestation) is acceptable, many believe that once a child has reached puberty, the child should be capable of providing consent to sexual activity. Statutory rape laws are based on the premise that persons below a specified age or who suffer from certain mental deficiencies are incapable of providing consent. These laws make it illegal for adults to coerce children into having sex.
Historically, statutory rape laws were designed to protect teenage girls from males who may take their virginity, impregnate them, and refuse to take responsibility and marry them. Thus, they served the purpose of protecting the honor of the girl and of preventing teenage pregnancy. They also helped to ensure the child would have a means of support. It wasn’t until much later that these laws began to be applied to protect boys as well. However, the application remains quite uneven. According to the DOJ, 95% of statutory rape victims reported to law enforcement are female, yet many studies have determined that boys comprise a much higher percentage of the victims. For instance, Dorais estimates that one in six boys will be sexually abused before the age of 16.
Social attitudes are primarily responsible for the double standard. According to Miriam Denov, there is a “myth of innocence” surrounding female sexuality that frequently regards sex between a young male and an older female to be a rite of passage and that it is somehow acceptable or less harmful than when the other way around. Further, boys are taught not to view themselves as victims as this is “unmanly.”
Law enforcement may not take such complaints seriously. In a previous post (Living in a Culture of Denial), I discussed the problems with the attitude of law enforcement towards male victims. Officers and other professionals may even redefine the act so as to make it acceptable. Even the male victims may view it as a positive experience and not a crime, leading to gross underreporting. In what may be the most bizarre denial of the existence of male victims, courts have held that male victims of rape can be held responsible for child support.
In California, an appellate court upheld an order (San Luis Obispo Count y v. Nathan J., 1996) forcing a 15 year old boy to pay child support to his rapist after she became pregnant and gave birth. The court ruled that although the boy was considered too young to provide consent to the sex act, he was an admitted willing participant and therefore liable to pay support stating that he was not an “innocent victim” because he had discussed it with his rapist prior to having sex. That this act was illegal and may have constituted coercion was apparently lost on the court. If the boy is considered legally incapable of providing consent, how can he be considered legally liable for giving that consent? Any consent or cooperation on his part should have been considered coercion and therefore not consent at all.
California is not the only state where this is the case. Kansas, Texas, Ohio, and other states also force rape victims to pay child support to their rapists. In Kentucky, a prosecutor stated that he would help a woman collect child support from a man who was 14 at the time she raped him while neglecting to charge the woman with statutory rape. The state of Colorado attempted to recover AFDC payments from a man who was just 12 when he became a father with an older woman. Contrast this with the allowances made for abortion for women who are raped (including statutory rape) even from many who are opposed to abortion in other circumstances. Mothers are also permitted to give up their children for adoption, no questions asked, should they not want their children. In no case is a woman forced to raise or pay for a child conceived during a rape.
But this is not the case with fathers. Two separate cases indicate that even when sperm is stolen or a man is forcibly raped, the man remains liable for child support. In Louisiana a man was ordered to pay child support to a woman who had him wear a condom during oral sex. She then took the condom extracted the sperm and impregnated herself. In Alabama, a man was actually raped by a woman and was still ordered to pay child support. This man got drunk at a party and passed out. The next morning he awoke in bed, naked from the waist down. He testified that he did not remember having sex. Others testified that the mother had actually bragged about having sex with him when he was “passed out” and “wasn’t even aware of it.” This constitutes rape in most states, yet the man was ordered to pay support to the woman who was apparently not even criminally charged.
The National Legal Research Group refers to this as “a strict liability theory of sperm,” i.e. a man is liable for his sperm no matter what the circumstance. One court has attempted to justify its actions on the basis of biology rather than admit discrimination:
“[w]hile it is true that after conception a woman has more control than a man over the decision whether to bear a child, and may unilaterally refuse to obtain an abortion, those facts were known to the father at the time of conception. The choice available to a woman vests in her by the fact that she, and not the man, must carry the child and must undergo whatever traumas, physical and mental, may be attendant to either childbirth or abortion. Any differing treatment accorded men and women . . . is owed not to the operation of [state law] but to the operation of nature.”
While there may be natural differences between men and women, in this day and age, it is simply wrong to place all the rights in the hands of women and all the responsibility on the shoulders of men. Rights carry responsibilities. If a woman desires the right to choose, then the woman must be required to bear the responsibility for her decision. If, as the above court stated, the “facts were known to the father at the time of conception” then certainly they were also known to the mother. To hold her to a different standard simply because of biology is morally wrong. She should have the right to choose, but her decision should not be forced upon the father. She may have to bear the burden of either childbirth or abortion, but she also has a wide variety of options for birth control that the man simply doesn’t have. Further, in this day and age, she also has career opportunities that will permit her to support a child on her own.
This is especially true in circumstances where the father was a victim of rape or statutory rape. Ordering a victim of rape (even statutory rape) to pay child support to his rapist is tantamount to allowing the rapist to rape him over and over again. Not only is it a constant reminder, it is like he is being punished for being a victim of a crime. It is unthinkable that our court system not only condones, but has legalized this draconian practice. It is not only an injustice, it is an obscenity that is being perpetrated on male victims. It needs to end.
Child Abuse Effects, Male victims of child abuse. Retrieved 10/03/2010 from: http://www.child-abuse-effects.com/male-victims-of-sexual-abuse.html
Divorce Source. Its ten o’clock: Do you know where your sperm are? Retrieved 10/03/2010 from: http://www.divorcesource.com/research/dl/paternity/99jan1.shtml
Dorais, M. (2002). Don’t tell: The sexual abuse of boys. Montreal: McGill-Queens University Press.
Troup-Leasure, Karyl and Snyder, Howard N. Statutory rape known to law enforcement. Juvenile Justice Bulletin, August 2005. http://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/ojjdp/208803.pdf
Wikipedia. Statutory Rape. Retrieved 10/03/2010 from: http://cc.bingj.com/cache.aspx?q=child+support+rape+victim&d=4680324777181235&mkt=en-US&setlang=en-US&w=cb25fe37,dc60d545
(This article was originally written for and posted at A Voice For Men)
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- What is Statutory Rape? (brainz.org)